Potential Closure of Glasgow Municipal Courses is Devastating
Article by Golfshake's Derek Clements
WHEN we first picked up a golf club most of us learnt to play the game at our local municipal course. Run by the local council, it has always been a cheap option and a way of meeting like-minded people without feeling inadequate about your abilitiy. So at a time when we are trying to find ways to grow the game and making it accessible - including the introduction of 54 Handicaps - it comes as a shock to learn that Glasgow City Council is planning to shut down five of its six courses. A final decision will be made on February 20.
I was born in Glasgow and took my first faltering steps at a nine-hole golf course called Kings Park, which was almost on my doorstep. From there I graduated to an 18-hole course called Linn Park. And then it was on to Littlehill, which is one of the finest municipal courses I have ever played - and I have played a lot of them over the years. It was designed by none other than James Braid and was once used as an Open qualifying venue - and the council is considering closing it and sending in the bulldozers. It is scarcely credible that such an option is even being considered. But it is.
Back in those days, you used to turn up and have to queue for a tee time. For ages. You would put a golf ball into a shute and then clear off for a couple of hours or head into the clubhouse for a cup of piping hot tea and a bacon roll. When you returned, your golf ball would have slid down the shute - or else somebody would have removed it and put it back at the end of the queue. But eventually you would get out on the course.
I am not going to pretend that these courses were especially well kept. The tees usually had little grass on them, the fairways were full of divot holes, the bunkers were rarely raked and the greens were bumpy. But it was a way of getting out there, learning the game, being bitten by the bug. And that is precisely what happened to me and many others just like me. And eventually I joined a private club as a junior member. Lo and behold, I discovered that tees had grass, that bunkers contained soft sand and that greens were true and smooth.
(Littlehill Golf Course)
But I would always return to Littlehill from time to time because it was a great course. You may have heard of somebody called Sandy Lyle. His uncle, Walter, was the professional at Littlehill. He was a wonderful gentleman who made everybody feel welcome. And playing golf at Littlehill and the other municipal golf courses cost next to nothing.
Glasgow Council has stunned golfers by announcing that it plans to close five of its courses, apparently to save £530,000. And when they are gone, they are gone. It seems certain that the land will be sold to private developers. Nobody is denying that there is a need for more housing in and around Glasgow, but, in the grand scheme of things, what is a saving of £530,000?
The council claims that the courses are no longer financially viable. It has axed thousands of jobs in recent years, and this announcement means that more will go. The courses under threat are Littlehill, Linn Park, Lehtamhill, Ruchill and Alexandra Park. Ruchill actually closed its doors in August last year before a rescue plan was announced. As things stand, the council has indicated that Knightswood, a poor nine-hole course, may be the only one that survives.
Glasgow Life, which is the cultural and sporting arm of the council, manages all six courses and says that the number of rounds played has plummeted by 15%.
(Knightswood Golf Course)
John Devlin, a member of Littlehill and secretary of the Friends of Littlehill, said: “Closure would have a devastating effect on the local community.
“What other gentle way of exercise is there for people in their 50s? It also keeps people’s mental health in check. The council is supposed to be promoting a healthy lifestyle, yet they are looking at closing the courses.”
Unsurprisingly, Rhea Wolfson, of the GMB trade union, has attacked the plan: “Glasgow has a funding crisis and the city is a picture of what 10 years of austerity looks like. We have said Glasgow needs investment from central Government to tackle years of cuts.”
A spokesman for the council said: “Glasgow City Council will need to make budget savings which could be in the region of £50million. The cross-party budget working group asked officers for savings options. All parties have received the same information and they will present their budgets at a meeting on February 20.”
Glasgow is not alone. All over the country, municipal courses are closing their doors for the last time. It means that the new generation of golfers are left with a stark choice - do they join a private club and hope that, as beginners, they will be embraced by the existing membership, or do they simply walk away and find another sport? Sadly, in many cases, the latter has become the go-to option.
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